Home Office responds to ‘misleading advertising’ ruling by repeating contentious claim

Written by Sam Trendall on 29 August 2019 in News

Department ‘completely disagrees with ASA decision’ to uphold complaint about advert concerning online application for settled status 

Credit: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that a Home Office advert made “misleading” claims about the process through which EU citizens apply for settled status in the UK.

The Home Office has made clear that it “completely disagrees” with the decision – as well as using its public response to repeat the contentious claim.

A radio ad encouraging people to apply to the settlement scheme said that, to do so, “all you need to apply is your passport or ID card and to complete an online form”.

The ASA received a complaint that the advert, which was broadcast in April, was misleading. The complainant “understood that in, some cases, applicants also needed to provide proof of address covering the previous five years”, according to the regulator.

In responding to the complaint, the Home Office said that listeners would appreciate the that it was not possible to run through all possible eventualities in a short audio clip, and that the ad “accurately described the key elements of the application process”, the ASA said.

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The department supported the claims of the advert by pointing out “73% of applicants did not have to submit any documents as evidence of their residence”, the authority added.

But the regulator decided that “listeners would infer [the advert’s claims] to refer to the documents they would need to complete the entire process of applying for EU settled status”. The ASA added that 27% of applicants had, in fact, been asked to provide documents evidencing their residence.

“Furthermore, some applicants were also asked for other documents, such as evidence of a family relationship,” the ASA said. “While we acknowledged that applicants were not required specifically to submit ‘proof of address’ – as referenced by the complainant – some were required to submit further documents beyond those stated in the ad. We considered that the actual proportion who were asked to submit further documents was likely to go beyond what the audience was likely to understand from the claim. In that context, we considered that the ad did not make sufficiently clear that, in some cases, applicants would need to supply documents beyond their passport or ID card.”

The ASA upheld the complaint, and ruled that the Home Office had breached the misleading advertising guidelines of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. 

“The ad must not be broadcast again in the form complained about,” the ruling said. “We told the Home Office to ensure they made sufficiently clear that some applicants to the EU Settlement Scheme would need to provide additional documents beyond their passport or ID card.”

In response, a Home Office spokesperson made plain the department’s dispute with the ASA’s conclusions, before repeating the precise claim that had been ruled to be misleading.

“We completely disagree with ASA’s decision,” they said. “The campaign was factual and complied with all necessary clearance processes for radio advertising. The campaign has had a positive impact and encouraged more than one million successful applications so far. The scheme is free, straightforward and EU citizens and their family members have plenty of time to apply. All they need to apply is their passport or ID card and to complete an online form.”


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology


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